Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Nuclear Green will be around for a while longer

I recently discovered, much to my surprise, that Dan Yurman shut down his blog, Idaho Samizdat: Nuke Notes,  in November.  Dan did yeoman work as a pro nuclear blogger from the beginning of 2007 to last November. His voice will be missed among nuclear bloggers. I wish the very best to Dan and hope that he will meet with every success in his new endeavor.

I do not intend, at present, to shut down Nuclear Green. At present I am experimenting with what I can accomplish without being able to read Internet text or things that I write. This moment is an opportunity to reflect on my experience with Nuclear Green and possible courses into the future.

Kirk Sorensen who began blogging a few months before Dan in 2006 is continuing to act as a very strong blog presence. Kirk's blog, Energy from Thorium, now has a slick format. Kirk is aided by a very professional staff. I continue to marvel at what Kirk has accomplished since 2006. In 2006, quite literally, only a hand full of people had heard of the Molten Salt Reactor and of Thorium. Today, the Thorium Breeding Molten Salt Reactor, the LFTR, is frequently mentioned during Internet discussions of nuclear power and has been covered a number of times by prominent English newspapers. The potential of Thorium has been discussed in the English House of Lords. The Chinese are committing hundreds of millions of dollars to the development of Molten Salt and LFTR type reactors. I must add here that I did play a role in the grassroots movement to spread knowledge of Molten Salt Reactor and Thorium technologies. Kirk of course did far more than I did. Kirk was one of the first people in the world to recognize the potential usefulness of Molten Salt technology and of breeding Thorium.

I had known about Molten Salt Reactors and had some inkling about the potential of Thorium because my father, Charles J. Barton Sr., had been involved in Molten Salt Reactor technology. He had conducted research directed towards breeding Thorium in Molten Salt Reactors from the late 1950's until the end of the 1960's. Thus when I read environmentalists' complaints against nuclear power directed towards the safety issues of the problems of nuclear waste, the capital costs of nuclear power plants, and proliferation dangers, I found that a place had already been established where a great deal of scientific research on Molten Salt Reactors and Thorium had already been established on the Internet. That was Kirk's blog, Energy from Thorium.

I joined the discussion that was facilitated by Kirk's blog. Discussion members were registered and I was, I believe, the twenty-fifth member. I began to post comments on other blogs that dealt with nuclear related issues, pointing out that many comments were invalid because they failed to deal with the potential of Molten Salt nuclear technology. Eventually, I decided to start my own nuclear blog which I named, Nuclear Green. As I grew to recognize the truly revolutionary potential of Molten Salt technology, I changed the name of the blog to Nuclear Green Revolution.

For the first two years I followed the policy that there were many issues that needed to be addressed but were not being addressed by properly qualified people and therefore I would address them until better qualified people began to do so. I did studies of the costs of reliable Renewable Energy as compared to the costs of nuclear energy. These studies themselves were flawed because it was impossible to predict the costs of the technologies involved in making renewable energy viable, but the studies did tend to show that the costs of reliable renewable energy would not be cheap and would likely be even more expensive than the costs of nuclear energy. The costs of nuclear energy was then and remains highly problematic however studies by Pers Petersen and some of his students do suggests that the use of Molten Salt Nuclear technology would lower nuclear costs.

I also noted that many energy needs were being neglected in post carbon energy studies. For example, the costs of providing peak electrical energy and the costs of providing industrial heat. In both cases Molten Salt Reactors have interesting potential. I looked at use of nuclear power in desalination and noted that waste heat from Molten Salt Reactors could be used to power desalination plants. These considerations were independent of Kirk's favored Molten Salt Reactor, the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR). I initially envisioned Nuclear Green as a blog about Molten Salt Reactors as opposed to Energy from Thorium which is about one form of Molten Salt Reactor, the LFTR. Kirk asked me to focus on the LFTR which I did for a number of reasons. Kirk is very charismatic and capable of very hard work and has in fact accomplished truly amazing things. I felt that more could be accomplished by backing up Kirk than by going off on my own, at least initially. Thus in 2007, a mere hand full of people knew what a Molten Salt Reactor was. By 2011 the LFTR was being adopted by China for a huge research effort. The LFTR is repeatedly mentioned in discussions on nuclear power and the number of people who know about LFTRs and Molten Salt Reactors has grown exponentially over the last six years. In no small measure this surprising grassroots movement can be attributed to one man, Kirk Sorensen.

Because it was increasingly evident that Kirk's efforts to make the LFTR known, was meeting with success, I shifted my efforts back to Molten Salt Reactors including LFTRs. I wanted to place greater emphasis on uranium fueled Molten Salt Reactors. My reasons for doing so were wholly practical. The LFTR requires a good deal of technological development while the uranium fuel cycle of Molten Salt Reactors requires much less research and development. Much of the development had already taken place at Oak Ridge National Laboratory prior to the launching of the successful Molten Salt experiment in 1965. The Molten Salt Reactor experiment revealed a few small material problems that Oak Ridge scientists had good ideas on how to solve, but for the most part, the technology for a commercial uranium fueled Molten Salt Reactor had been successfully tested.

 The construction of a commercial Molten Salt Reactor appeared to pose far fewer challenges than a LFTR. Furthermore, the commercial Molten Salt Reactor would serve as a launch pad for LFTR development. The Molten Salt Reactor did not need to be huge. One hundred megawatts seemed to offer a compromise between power demands and industrial heat purposes. The hundred megawatt reactor could be placed in an underground silo and this would dramatically lower site related construction costs. The hundred megawatt reactor could be transported easily and thus would have the potential for factory construction. In addition, the hundred megawatt reactor could be linked to other Molten Salt Reactors to form higher electrical output units to serve as a base load power source. Heated Molten Salt could be placed into a storage vault and drawn out to power generator turbines during periods of peak electrical demand. This would offer something that is unique: a nuclear technology that might be competitive with natural gas and could supply peak electricity, backup electricity, and district and  industrial heat. As my health and vision deteriorated, I focused more and more on these technologies. I hope to include, soon, a post on my environmental concerns and explain the "green" in Nuclear Green.

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